A lot of people in the farming space who farm as a side hustle aim and struggle to make farming their main hustle. Today, we’re talking about something a little different—we’re talking about how a farmer has modeled his farm and his business to fit his main job and lifestyle.
We have Travis Schulert on the show to talk about how he works as a full-time contractor while having farming as a smaller piece of his livelihood, and how he has managed to conform his farm and his business to fit into his lifestyle.
Today’s Guest: Travis Schulert
Travis Schulert is a full-time contractor and farmer based in Michigan. He has come a long way to get to where he is in life, balancing his full-time job with earning a comfortable income through growing premium, high-quality produce with his wife Miranda.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- High quality food and how the small-scale farm fits into life (02:40)
- Raising prices: was it too low or is it going premium (05:25)
- Raising prices as a necessity (09:50)
- How much the farm needs to make in a week (12:00)
- Fitting the farm into the lifestyle as a secondary economic unit (13:30)
- How feasible is it to copy Travis’ set up and system (18:20)
- Making the farm full-time and completely replacing the day job income (22:05)
- Quality and getting more sales at market with higher prices (26:50)
- Weekly staples and top crops that sell out fast (31:30)
- The freedom and confidence of growing new, different crops (35:15)
- The logistics behind newsletters and pre-ordered products (41:50)
- Premium items, keeping an eye on the demand, and exclusive marketing (48:00)
- Being realistic and being okay with not having farming as the full-time thing (52:15)
- Re-framing the mindset, changing expectations, and becoming a happier person (01:03:25)
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Diego: [00:00:00] A lot of people try and start a brand new business and they make their life conform to their new business. But what are you approached at the opposite way? What if, when you started your business, you made sure that your new business fit your life. And that might mean that the business isn't the main thing. It's the second thing. Find out how farmer Travis Schulert is making his farm business work for his life. Stay tuned coming up.
Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO. Today's episode is to you by Paper Pot, Co., a company that I co own with farmer Curtis Stone Paper Pot, Co. is your number one source for all things, paper pot transplanter related.
Our goal is to make your farm life easier, faster, more efficient, and more profitable. Learn more about all of our productivity enhancing farm tools at paperpot.co for today's episode, I'm talking to farmer Travis Schuller, and we're talking about a topic today that doesn't come up on the show a whole lot.
It's this idea of the farm being a secondary thing. The farm isn't the main hustle. The farm is really the side hustle. That's very different, I think, than a lot of you listening to this, a lot of you listening to this, you either have a main hustle, like a corporate job, and you're starting a farming on the side and you want to make the farm.
You're starting on the side. The main thing, or the farm already is your main thing. It's your job? It's your livelihood? for Travis, his farm is just one piece he's of his livelihood and it's the smaller piece. Because he works a full time job as a contractor, and it's a choice that he's made for the right reasons for him as we go through this episode, I really want you to listen to Travis and how he's approaching farming as a second business and think about your life and how your farm and your business coexist together. Do they work or do you need to chain some things around to make them work better? Think about that and let's jump right into it with farmer Travis Schulert.
So, Travis, it's been about a year since I've had an update with you and what you're doing on your farm. And I actually visited your farm at your home last year up in Michigan. Over 2018, what's it been like as a small scale farmer? And can you talk about your approach as a small scale farm and how it plays a part in your life?
Travis Schulert: [00:02:52] this whole season? I'm sure I could find a million things to complain about if I really wanted to nitpick, but I really can't complain about a whole lot. I'm just super happy with the way things have been going and, our overall approach. Coming out of last year, we were thinking, okay, we need to amp up profits. We got to grow more. Obviously we need to maybe start a second market and all these other things that I had plans of doing and, life happens and then spring rolled around and it was, I was still completely burned out from last year.
So I didn't, I didn't have the motivation, but okay. It looks fine. And other market, and let's start thinking about everything that goes along with selling at a new place and a new location. And we just decided, all right, we're gonna. We're just going to focus on the one market we've been doing and just try to look at the numbers and rework things and plan what we grow around, what makes the most money.
And, we dropped a lot of the unnecessary vegetables from the garden, things like tomatoes, cucumbers, And then we focus more on having consistent high quality food week to week, instead of having huge flushes of different products that, bringing some people in, but it doesn't hold on to any of those regular customers.
We put a ton of effort and focus into just basically we're growing food and making quite a bit more money. And, we raised our prices and we've set we've stuck by that throughout the whole season, instead of this time of year, when everybody's prices go down, because everybody has a ton of food, we're just staying the same.
And we have built a reputation of having high quality food week after week. I have many customers come back and say, I can't believe it. I forgot about that bag of lettuce in the back of my fridge and it's still good. Two weeks later, it doesn't look bad at all, and, we have built that reputation and now we've got to stand by that and continue to put out that same quality product and our number one game. A lot of people have come to trust us, to grow their food for them.
Diego: [00:05:05] That's something a lot of people struggle with. And in every business, I know I faced that problem. When you raised your prices this year, do you think you were raising them from a level that was too low or do you think you. Raise them to be more premium.
In other words, they were fairly priced before, but Hey, if you do have the quality that you're talking about, customers appreciate that you want a price that reflects that quality. You got to go hire. Was it that, or where do you think you were under priced?
Travis Schulert: [00:05:36] I think we were fairly priced last year. I didn't, I didn't raise things too much. A dollar, basically a handful of our products were raised up a dollar per item and, I don't. I know we have a high price. I tell people every day that come into the market, if it's a new customer and I see some sticker shock in their eyes, when they're looking at things or, somebody may have a comment to make about the price of the food.
I just have no problem telling them right out of the gate that we are the most expensive food here at market. But if you care, I can tell then why. Then I give them the story and the pitch of why our food is better and the way I see it is nobody at market can touch our quality. Tend to beat our quality. I don't know. I don't know why exactly that is I know that has to do with my German dad being a incredibly precise carpenter growing up and not letting things slide. And his precision was, never faltered.
So that has something to do with it. But at the same time, I just think a lot of other people. Slack off when it comes to the actual harvesting and preparing and sorting and cleaning up their food where we just make sure everything's triple washed and pretty sorted properly so that when you buy a bag of lettuce, it's 100% good lettuce to eat. There's no weeds, blades of grass, anything like that.
And that, and so I think we have a high price product, but we went into it thinking I can't, we can't do this. I was so burnt out in the spring. I figured if we don't make more money and do less work, then it's not worth us doing. And I have no problem admitting that.
Hey, I tried the farm thing and for me it didn't work out because I couldn't make enough money doing it. Other people might be happy working for pennies an hour. I'm not though, and I'm not willing to do that. So we made that choice. And I don't know if we've, we pretty much got all of the same regulars we had last year and the year before.
And we've gained several more this year and has consistent, happy customers week after week, I think I had one person come back this whole season and said they didn't like the way the radishes kept in the fridge. And I gave him a new thing of radishes. And then he told me that he didn't keep them in a bag.
He just put them in the fridge without a bag. So I explained, that's probably why they didn't stay good because radishes, I keep in my fridge. If we don't sell them are good for a month. And, it's freshness high quality food. And. Having a good market location and having a good reputation and a smiling face, welcoming tent, all these things go into it, but then you have the food. The food's worth a lot. I wouldn't pay what I'm charging for my same food, but that's why I grow it to begin with.
Diego: [00:08:40] Was raising prices a necessity? Was it something where through the winter you sat down and you looked at what the farm was bringing in, what work was going into it. And you said, we got to make more of this, like this isn't going to work.
And there's two ways you can grow. You can do more sales at the same price, or you can do the same amount of sales at a higher price. You had to raise prices. Was that how it came about? just like what you said, we need to make more, if this farm's going to stay around.
Travis Schulert: [00:09:09] Yeah. looking at how much we made last year and we put a lot of investment into the garden at the beginning of the year last year. We hardly did any of that investment this year. And we can get into that a little bit later, but I don't looking at the amount of hours we put in last year and how much money we made, how much we net it off of it. I was just kinda thinking, minimum wage is not going to be good enough.
Yes, it's true, minimum wage is not a living wage. And we were pretty much right about minimum wage for what we made for the entirety of the year. And, that's not going to cut it like we need to make more than that. So we can live off that and be happy doing it.
and if you start at minimum wage, anywhere after five years, you should be making a lot more than that. If you work hard and you put your time and you should not still be at minimum wage, if you stayed with one thing for more than a couple of years. And that was how I looked at it and, I saw it as I had to make more or else I'm not.
And I even said that to Miranda that I'm not going to do this again for another year if I can't make more money at it, it's just not worth it for me. I'll continue to farm and I'll continue to build up this property and plant tree crops and all these good things, but I'm not going to do it out of a need to have to, I have to farm, I have to farm. I don't have to do that.
I would rather do that. As long as I can make a living doing it. I'm not willing to live below the poverty line, just so I can be on the farm and grow food. Some people may think that way. and I used to certainly, but that's changed.
Now I'm looking at starting a family and wanting to increase the pleasures of life and then slow down the amount of work I'm doing. I'm not going to be able to do any of that. If I keep chugging along the same pace, making the same amount of money for the same amount of work. It�s just not enough.
Diego: [00:11:08] In your context, what do you have to get out of a weekly market, given the work that you put in?
Travis Schulert: [00:11:14] average this year has been about average, like 700, 750 a week. And that's from one 10 by 10 times. We finally broke the thousand-dollar mark, but we had been chasing for a while and really wanted to gross over a thousand for a day. And I think we had just broke that by a couple bucks on our best week this year.
And that's great, like for the one market week is if I can, if I can increase sales to average more like 900 a week, I would be very happy with that. That's okay, great for the size we're at right now, but I've had other, I rather than do two markets and increase sales, I'm looking into putting, trying to find tire crackers offices in the area that would allow me to set up a table in there in their office once or twice a week, cross the places that sort of thing, and focus on people who are already health-minded and get food in front of them, and start the kind of thing where we can just go set up a table in the morning and come and pack it up at the end of the day and not have to put a ton of time into it yet increase the bottom line a little bit.
Diego: [00:12:32] One thing you talked about when I was visiting your place is how farming. Is a very contextual piece of your whole life. It's not. Your life farming, isn't everything. And the farm. Isn't everything. Economically. You work in construction as a contractor and on our past podcast, I believe in the video too.
You talked about, Hey, I can, yeah. Make a good living, doing that. I work with people. I like I can get paid more per hour being a contractor than I can as a farmer. So you design the farm to fit around what you do as a contractor. Now we're here. You're partners on the farm with your wife. Can you talk about, is that still true? Do you still view the farm as a its own economic unit, but it's very much a secondary economic unit to the construction contracting business.
Travis Schulert: [00:13:32] To me, it is a secondary source of income and it gets my leftover. If I got out of work early enough, I'll put some time into the farm at night or I put my time into the garden on my days off on Sundays, Saturday nights after market, that sort of thing.
It's secondary to me, but it's the primary of my wife. So Miranda this year has stepped up better than I could have ever imagined. She's really come into her own as far as being a farm manager, and I'm focusing still on a lot of the day to day operations, how we're going to market things, how we're going to display stuff, how I reach out to new customers and how I get more people to come find us at market. And I focus a lot on that and, she, she has just taken over and more and more of the day they work involved in the garden and monetarily, it replaces her 35, 40-hour week at Starbucks where she's making above minimum wage. It replaces that for her and also puts the money in my pocket and then pays for any investments we made into the property that year.
So take home for her is more than she would make if she didn't do this. It also means she gets to stay at home. She gets to be with the dogs every day. She gets to be in this beautiful location where you don't have cars flying by. You don't have bad customers every day. I don't want to end and needy upset clients, where.
She's here. It's just her and the dogs. She wants to take a break at 10:30 and go in and do some dishes and watch a little TV. She can do that. She has the freedom to do whatever she wants and whatever orders she wants that fits her lifestyle. That's her needs of what's going to make her happy throughout the day, as long as enough work gets done.
And so far that has not been a problem. We're making more money with less food, coming off of the same amount of land. And, both of us are much happier this year than we were last year and the year before. And the year before that, every year is an increase, but it's secondary to me, that's primary to her until the market's over and what we've been discussing for years.
And what I think she's finally going to start doing probably this winter is, I will set her up with a microgreens operation throughout the basement and the second bedroom in the house. And she's going to take that over and then I'm going to help her on weekends go to a winter market. And that way, maybe do that for a winter or two.
And she should be able to just replace Starbucks altogether and not have to go there in the winter. Not have to have a job. Wherever it may be during the winter months. And she can just spend her life, doing what she wants at the farm, with the freedom to leave and go do what she needs to and, just live a much more comfortable, happy life not being a slave to somebody else's schedule.
Diego: [00:16:41] Being a part time thing, how many hours a week do you think she's putting in on the farm? Not counting market?
Travis Schulert: [00:16:48] She probably does 5 hours a day, 6 hours a day, 5 days a week.
Diego: [00:16:54] 30 hours. So it's a nice fit for you or situation, if somebody else was thinking about doing this and they're like, I have a good job, I'm an engineer.
I work at Starbucks and I like it. I don't want to quit that job. How feasible do you think it is to replicate what your doing? Do you think it's. Easy. Do you think it takes time? Would you say to somebody to be realistic and not pump them to full of their own exuberance?
Travis Schulert: [00:17:28] It's subjective. My experience is my experience and. I tell people, probably a weekly basis, I talked to them and they had a lot of people come and find me at Mark and want to talk to me about farming because they want to get into farming or they want to have a better garden themselves, this, that, and the other thing. And I always just try to tell people, here's my experience.
All I can do is share with you my experience. You have to make your own experience. So you have to figure out along the way what's going to make you happy. What level of work is too much work for you to be happy doing? I want to end, if I, if we switched and it was Miranda going to work and I was working at the farm, but I made the same amount of money that I'm making right now doing time tracking, but didn't have to do contract and then just worked on the farm, I'd take that in a heartbeat.
But, unfortunately that's not the way of the world. There's people out there making bank on growing vegetables, they're type A personalities they're extremely driven. I guess I would. I'm not quite a type A person. I am to a degree and to a lot of people I am, but I like relaxing and I liked downtime and I like free time. And, at this point in our farming career, I would tell anybody that has a really good job. That's thinking about leaving it to just go farm, that they need to do anything besides that, because you don't know if they're going to like it or not until you've done it for five years. Figure it out first.
And obviously don't put all your eggs in the farming basket is if you have some other source of reliable income, Start doing them together. Like I did, start a garden in your spare time, start figuring out how you can even sell food and do a couple of years like that.
And if it turns out too much work, then maybe that's not for you. You might find that you're happier making less, just so you don't have to go work for somebody else. That would most certainly be the case for me. If I wasn't working for a family business because I'm working for my dad, I get freedom that comes along with that.
that allows me to, Hey, I have the market prep on Friday. So Friday morning we pick and clean everything. Pretty much everything for the garden or for market that day. Miranda does a couple of things earlier in the week, but most of it's done on Fridays. So I starting in, early June, I take every Friday off for the rest of the summer.
That's not an issue. It doesn't come up. But if you're an engineer working for a corporation, that's probably not going to be okay. So it's completely subjective to me. And, all you can do is start. If you haven't, if you have an urge and a drive to do something, you have this bug in you eating away and pushing you to go do something. And you know what that thing is then. you better try it. You better start doing it. Just don't burn all your bridges on your way. Cause you don't know how it's going to go.
Diego: [00:20:33] What do you think you'd have to do to make your farm a full-time thing to support both of you? The construction thing just went away. You couldn't do it anymore. For whatever reason, how could you take your farm knowing your market, knowing your skills, knowing your customers and try to. Replace that income.
What are some ideas and what do you think you'd have to do? This is a struggle that a lot of people are in. They have a job, they want to do a farming thing, but losing income, it's scary. It's hard. It's painful. How would you, if you had to put this into play, try and replace that income?
Travis Schulert: [00:21:12] That's definitely a worry, as it should be, not that I'm dwelling on it every day, but that should obviously be a thought on every single person's mind in the world. what happens if tomorrow my job is not there anymore?
What would I do then? And the farm is a great fallback, because it produces our food that takes away that monthly cost or yearly cost. And I would think that if I found out that's what I found out in the middle of winter, that for whatever reason, I'm not going to have any work for the next six months.
I would probably get out there early spring. And while everything's still Brown in the flood, plain, that you saw here when you were here, which has several feet of the richest, blackest soil, you could imagine. I go out there and I would torch all that stuff, probably an acre of it. And, I would just, I would, I use that because it has good soil and I would just plan on growing a ton of food, just a ton of food.
I would double, triple, quadruple what I was already growing. And, I would just plan, I probably plan on starting to find a Sunday market in an affluent area. Cause I do my Saturday market already and then add a Sunday market in and then try to find multiple doctor's offices, chiropractor, CrossFit gyms, and get tables up with food in there throughout the week.
I'm sure it would be a pretty rough year for sure, but I don't think we would be destitute. I think we would be able to pay all of our bills based on and what we make putting, 35 hours of labor in throughout the week. If I was here the whole summer to just do nothing but work on the garden, we can produce a ton of food. The only issue that would be finding a market for it.
And the way I see it is. I make decent money. So there's a lot of things. And instead of doing them myself, I buy, or I pay for it instead of having to do it on my own. Whereas if you switch that or reversed it, now, all of a sudden you have time, but less money then I'd be doing a lot more stuff myself on the farm that, would increase quality, fertility.
we would increase production and, because I'd have the time to put up. It's definitely been a thought in my mind because anything can happen at any time. I never, you never know. and I wonder myself, like how much would I have to grow and how quickly in order to make the farm, just 100% pay for everything right now at the state.
It's in, if you took this season for an example, I had that one season. With the amount of money we may, if I didn't put any more time into it and we had to just live on that, it wouldn't be enough for, we'd probably be able to just skim by and pay the bills, but it would be a pretty dismal existence.
We both probably be pretty miserable. We like, we spent five years growing this thing and four of which we hardly ever went on vacation or did anything for ourselves. And, now we've gotten used to, now we have free time. Again, we can go do things with each other. We can go on vacation, little trips here and there a little road trips.
And we've gotten used to that until if you have to go, Diane, you have to dial all that back. Yeah. Tempers are going to flare. You're going to be miserable, but that's better than not having you anything. And you have no fallback. Yeah. And you're even more miserable and you lose everything as a result.
yeah, I think we could do it if we could put in the position, but I can say I probably wouldn't want to, I wouldn't want to be in that position just yet
Diego: [00:24:58] prices at the market this year, you're doing more each week in sales than you did last year at the market. Do you think you're topped out at the market? Could you go, could you get more sales out of it?
Travis Schulert: [00:25:10] Yeah, we could, I've always said if we could just, if we had two tents, so if we had a 10 by 20 foot display that alone, and if we were able to keep it full all day, cause that's a big, that has a big role to play in it then yeah. We could definitely be making more money off of it.
In order to keep it full all day, you're going to be throwing a lot more away when you get home. And I know that's totally acceptable by a lot of people. And some people will tell you that you better get used to it. If you want to be a farmer or else, you're going to have a bad time, basically. You gotta get used to throwing away food and yeah, that is true to a degree, but, we've managed the summer to not really throw away a whole lot. Not a whole lot for market has been put out to the compost pile, some of the stuff on bad weeks and we bring home a lot of something or a lot of somethings Miranda's been putting it up, blanching par, boiling, and freezing a lot of it.
So we've got a freezer full of kale and broccoli that we'll eat throughout the winter. But the main thing that's allowed us to make the money we have for the summer is by this looming possibility that your favorite product on our table, where we sold out early and you won't be able to get it. So we've started offering through my newsletter where I acquire emails throughout the week, and through our website and then with a clipboard on the table to sign up and we've been putting, I put out a weekly news, let people know what's on the table.
And then this year we started getting the option. Hey, for all those people, aren't our die hard customers. Those of you who are reading the email. If you want to shoot me a text in the morning of market or the night before an email or whatever, letting me know what you want. And we'll have it bagged for you in coolers, waiting behind the table.
So it's very easy for Miranda, just as I'm setting up the table, she can start. Going over preorders and getting those bagged up. And we've had a couple of more where we were like pushing over 200 bucks, a protein sold before the market even started. And that's just by not overgrowing, everything.
Like we haven't grown such surplus that we had piles of lettuce at the end of the day. we've, managed to have a consistent lettuce crop every single week. But there's been very few weeks that we've taken any home with us. And we can almost assure that a handful of products are going to sell out early.
And then the bulk of the other stuff we have, we'll use the replace that space on the table. But about one, the market closes at two where running were looking pretty slim at that point. And I have customers every week that come late and they go out, shoot, I should have pre-ordered darn it. I missed my chance to have lettuce this week. That sucks. I guess I'm not eating lettuce because anywhere else I buy it's not even going to become close to the quality.
I don't know what the marketing term for it would be, but it's a limited supply and it's in high demand. And we're only two people that are not willing to work slave hours to get you another bag of lettuce. What we have this week is what we've got. Our diehard regulars that are on the newsletter we'll have the opportunity to preorders, but if they can't be there early, they still get what they came for and then anybody else is going to be fighting over the rest.
And that's where I'd like to keep it. I want to keep it where people are fighting over, the last bag of lettuce where we'll have somebody come up and snatch it. And don't, I'm sorry, but. I have to have this, and grab it out from somebody else because they don't want to miss their chance to have that lettuce or that broccoli.
And, that's a good position to be, to have a quality product, so good that people are afraid. They won't be able to get it this week if they don't get there early enough or pre-ordered it
Diego: [00:29:08] I'm with you. I think that makes a lot of sense. I see the value in that as a retailer, when you look at your crops, Some of them are selling out early.
What are your top crops? Because I know from talking to you in the past, like you're not growing a lot of the traditional stuff that people on other farms are, I think in the podcast last time you mentioned one of your top crops was broccolini or broccoli. What are your top ones this year?
Travis Schulert: [00:29:32] This year, definitely lettuce that has been, that's been a weekly staple. I can just real quick rattle off what it is. We even grow like this year, it's pretty much come down to eight products that we normally will have every single week. We have dyno, kale, curly, kale, bunched, red and white green on you. And so red and white onions. But pick when they're young.
Bunch together as green as scallions, but those red scallions in there, that's what sells them. everybody's got white green on the bunches. Nobody has white red, so that was a big one. So we got two kinds of kale. We had the green onions, some flowers, shoot, radish, shoot, a bag, or our bags of salinova lettuce, a bunch of broccolini.
And then our bunches of French breakfast radish, that's been the main staple on the table, almost every single week of the summer. And then every, we try to make it every week. We have a limited supply of a new thing that you normally don't get, half the summer, we've had really nice crunchy snow peas that people love.
they're not there every week and when they are people make sure they preorder them buy enough of that ahead of time. Now we've got these super sweet, lunchbox peppers from Johnny seeds where, by the time we tasted one, we said, Oh, now we're going to have to grow a lot more of those because they bring $5, a pint.
And we can't grow enough of them. Right now. We have a full bed of twos, 150 plants, and that's not nearly enough. And that's the kind of product where, when it comes to the lettuce, the broccoli. these sweet peppers when it comes to that, things like that. If we take some home, that's not the end of the world.
So rather than sit there and go home, boy, it's noon. We haven't sold it all. Let me lower the price. And now I'll make less money than I would not accustom people to having a less, a lower price. And then that's going to possibly scare that customer away in the future when they come back. And that $3 thing of peppers they bought is now five.
Instead of doing that. Leaving the prices where they are, we're not lowering the price on anything. And if we take kale, broccoli, peppers, whatever, if we take it home, we just make sure by the end of the day, Sunday or Monday, we chop it up, blanch it and get it in the freezer. And that product is valuable to us too.
like I said earlier, that if I had to. If I had, if I wanted this product, I wouldn't, Hey, the money we're asking for it, but that's why I'm growing it myself. it's so valuable to me having come out of my soil and I know the quality of it, and I know how beyond organic it is that it's worth a lot to me just to be able to put it away for the winter. So you can either pay what I'm asking. Or no, and we'll be happy with it, or one of our regulars will come by at the end of the day and scoop up whatever's left on the table.
Diego: [00:32:35] So when I say this, you have a market you're doing eight, 900 bucks a week at, and you want to make more, you're growing a crops, grow some additional crops to sell to your customers.
Make sure those crops are at the same quality as your others. You appear to have a rabid customer base. And it sounds like they're going to want to buy anything you put on the table. So if you want to make more grow something else.
Travis Schulert: [00:33:02] Yes, it makes sense to just think, okay, I'll now grow all these other products, we've already come from years of experiencing and experimenting with, we have the same 10 by 10 space, but we have 15, 18 different products on the table.
and I see a lot of people doing this where they grow a ton of variety. Okay. we gotta be able to, we'll just grow a ton of stuff and then something's going to sell and yeah, that's true. And I have many customers, many regulars this year, but are upset that we're not growing certain things that we were in previous years.
And I just have to say, sorry, but it wasn't making the cut. It wasn't making enough money. It was too time consuming to pick or to clean or, input, whatever issue you had with it there. I've done a lot of products are really specialty products, Like I, take big green peppers, for example, big green sweet peppers/
It's I've got these little boxes, little pints of little baby orange, yellow, green, and red sweet peppers. And I'm selling them for $5 a pint, in the same amount of space I could grow the same amount of peppers, but they would be large peppers. They would take up the same volume though. That large pepper, if I'd stuck a single large green pepper in that pint.
I'm not selling that for $5. I'm not even going to sell that. If I'm lucky, I'll sell it for a dollar. It's more like it's going to be two for a dollar. And that's just to get them off the table and get rid of them because you can go anywhere and buy a big sweet pepper, no matter what color it is.
Every other farmer at the market has so giant sweet pepper for sale. And so this winter, I'm just looking at that. What can I do? That's going to be different. People expect us to do something different because we're not the norm. And that's where that diehard customer base is built and is always growing, because you can go look at the same products on every other seems like every other market table and some people that you're doing, some things different.
I can see the ingenuity and the wheels turning on other people, other farmers heads. but overall it's just. No we've already experienced what happens when you grow something that people don't want to spend a lot of money on. It's been experience to get us here now that we can, then I can look pretty accurately at the season ahead and say, okay.
These are the crops we need to grow more of. This is what people want. yes, I know. let's just say John loves those dragons. Convene loves those wax beans, and I really. Really wish I could give him what he wants because he's there every single week. She's always there to give us a little bit of money every weekend, make sure he comes by and sees us.
I'd love to give him what he wants, but I have to be realistic about it. And, looking through the catalogs in the winter and deciding what you're going to order, like you can trick yourself into thinking a lot of things are going to do really good, but ultimately if For us, it took minimizing the amount, the quantity of things.
We were growing, the number of different things we were growing and just focusing on having consistent high quality food that people can come to love. And then by gaining those regular customers that know okay, we trust this person, we trust these people to grow our food. we really liked three of the products they have on their table.
We try the others. We're not big fans of them. And then all of a sudden I've got this new product, like these peppers or some cherry tomatoes, some delicata squash, a little random things like baby beets, all of a sudden I'll have something like that. And it's every one of our regular customers will pick one up.
Because they're so used to getting all of this normal stuff from us. When they see a new product hit the table, they buy it up because they assume it's going to be good. It's going to be high quality and everything else here is good. So we might as well try it. Even if they're not like beat people or pepper people, I can get them to at least buy one saying, Hey, Hey, look at this.
Do you use typers of the sweetest peppers I've ever had? I'm not lying either. They are the sweetest stubborns I've ever had, and yeah, $5 for a pint of them. There's a lot of money, but where else are you going to get them? And I'm not selling to a commodity market. I'm selling to a pleasure and a want market.
And that's where a lot of people, a lot of people fail to recognize like, people will clip coupons and shut lights off in order to save the money, to buy a circle, like you'll skimp on the quality of food in order to gain pleasure in some other, extra curricular part of your life.
My market of customer are people who value quality food so much that it went well beyond the commodity and the need aspect of their life, the need product of, I need to have food to survive and I'm going to save every penny I can when buying it so I can spend money on the things that make me happy.
Those are not my people. I'm going after people who look at food the way I look at food, where it's this beautiful thing. And when you find a high quality version of a pepper or a bag of lettuce, or what, input, whatever crop there. When you find something really high quality people like me tend to hold onto it.
So I have to find other people that are passionate and excited about food. Like I am. And if I can do that, I can sell a lot more for more money and in doing so do less work.
Diego: [00:38:40] I think that's really well said. And I think your plan for sales and marketing is really thought out. One thing you've mentioned a few times is presales and customers pre-ordering product.
Can you talk about how you, what are the logistics that go into that? What are you doing when you send it an email? What are you saying in that email and how does it play out in reality when you actually go to fulfill on these preorders?
Travis Schulert: [00:39:08] the preorders change every week. So some weeks we have certain customers. We have a few customers that are and have been for a few years battling cancer of different times and using our food as medicine. And, we have one person who's doing the Gerson therapy and she spent a few months down in Mexico at the, the Gerson, Resort, whatever you want to refer to it as.
And, so when she hears she's buying copious amounts of food, because she's not getting it anywhere else, she can't get it anywhere else. it's like the kind of thing where like her buying, she doesn't buy it every week, but if she does, that could be another, an extra 80 to $100 that we are just in preorder sales.
And it's not every week, we can't count on it, but it's a nice little bonus when it happens. rewind a little bit. having a good quality newsletter is really important. I think, I started the newsletter three years ago, roughly four years ago and acquiring new emails along the way and just doing it through Yahoo.
And not really, I'm trying to make it look nice, but I'm going through Yahoo mail. Wasn't really possible at the beginning of last summer, I, or beginning of last year, I decided to go with MailChimp and do that whole thing. I don't want to have to plug in their name too much, but. You go with a newsletter provider and email provider that allows you to do high quality newsletters are drag and drop system works really well for me.
I can just upload lots of pictures. I can pretty easily switch pictures out and have them resized to look good. And I set up the initial template and I saved maybe. I'll like at the beginning of the year, I don't know, on a Saturday or something when I'm not doing a whole lot still on the ground, I'll sit there for a few hours and I'll come up with eight to 10 tablets where they'll all have the basic, Hey, Schulert farm, great lakes, thermodynamics the Farmington farmer's market from nine to two every Saturday from May to October, I'll go through all that stuff.
Input all of that input, the links to the website. Facebook, Instagram, get all that stuff down there. And I'll put little factoids in about the farm about what makes us special. And then that way I just have the main picture and then a couple of blocks of boxes to fill in with information every week.
And half of that information is just what we're going to have on the table. The other half of the information is what's going on in Farmington this week. What's going on in your neck of the woods. We get information from the city about what's going on. So festivals and road closures, construction, that's all stuff that you're going to get by signing up for the newsletter.
And I make sure to tell people that. To get them to sign up, that this was specifically tailored to you and the town you live in. you benefit from signing up for this and you only get one email a week. I send it out on Friday evenings. I've experienced with sending it out earlier in the week, hard to know exactly what I'm going to have on the table.
Sometimes come Friday afternoon, I'll crop. We thought was going to be there. Isn't there anymore. And either way, when doing the preorders, you want it fresh in their mind anyways. So sending it out Friday night to me makes sense. you know what I always put in there. Oh, and Hey, as a reminder, anybody who's worried about not getting some of this delicious salad that's that we are limited on this week.
Please place your preorders for that or anything else you'd like, and we'll have it waiting for you with your name on it in a cooler, never even have to sit out on the table. So you get an even fresher product than it already is because you're not picking the item up off the table where it's then in potentially.
Diego: [00:43:04] So somebody responds to that and they say, Travis, yes. I want to preorder two pounds of lettuce. Do you just write their name down and then you have a list going, they're obviously not paying, there's no payment taking place. And then what's the off the cuff ratio of people that preorder. And then flake out?
Travis Schulert: [00:43:26] I don't think we've had one flake in three years of doing this. I've had a couple where I was like, I opened up the cooler at one 30. We got a half an hour left of market and I went, Oh, That person never came, like I, wow. That hadn't happened. So there's like a $10 order that's in there and I go, okay, Hey. I'll throw it out on the table and before I could even get it to the table, the person showed up.
again, these are usually the premium products that people are. Pre-ordering people aren't typically pre-ordering kale. They're they aren't typically pre-ordering radishes because radishes are there. They might add those onto their order, but that's not the main thing they're after they're, after the snow peas, the broccolini, the lettuce mix, sunflower shoots those premium products that sell out.
Diego: [00:44:12] So nobody flakes out.
Travis Schulert: [00:44:13] Yeah, no flakes, you'd think there'd be, you think there'd be more, but there hasn't, I don't think there's actually been a one.
Diego: [00:44:19] And then the people that do commit, they just go on a list and you allocate that product aside?
Travis Schulert: [00:44:25] Yeah, I put in his first come, first served. So let's say, the, a certain crop that's new this year, or, a late season crop like tomatoes, peppers, squash, that sort of thing. Let's say it did, it started ripening real slowly. So we just pick a little bit of, there was enough to pick some, but not enough to like, make a display of on the table. That's up to put it there. I put it in the newsletter that, Hey, we have these new peppers this week. They're the most delicious peppers I've ever had.
We're not even going to put them on the table. They're only available to you. People reading this newsletter and. There's been a few weeks where we've done that with some covers, because we just put down a couple of plants and extras that we had beyond our own needs. We brought down to market and pretty much every time we brought them in, I put it in the newsletter.
They pretty much sell out before the day even begins. So those are packed away. And if we got one or two extras, we'll just toss them on the side of the table. Normally people don't notice them. Sometimes they do. And they say, Hey, are these, cucumbers? They're a dollar a piece, sell it that way, but it's a great way to sell a product that you don't have a lot of.
and then that also, it makes the all inclusive, this buying club that you're part of, like you are part of what we have going on the farm here. And you're one of only, maybe 50 people on average every week that I actually open and read the newsletter because with MailChimp, I can see who opens it.
I can see people, what people clicked on links and what links they clicked on. And then when they did that and I can customize things based on those bad information that I'm getting from, from MailChimp. And, so it, I think it gives us subs of, it's very similar to.
what casinos do with you have the Emerald club, where, Oh, if you're, if you are extra cool and that extra money that you can be part of this special rewards club that you get treated differently. It's along those lines, not on a sinister as a casino, obviously, but, people like.
To be a part of it. They like to feel not everybody is doing this. So they're offered something that, you know, Hey, it's not even going to be on the table, but only, about this. People tend to want that, they'll buy that so they can continue being part of the club, And that's a great thing. Like it's technically, it all falls under the umbrella of branding. we have those brands that we've been creating and. No people, I hear those all the time will we'll come up and start telling me how I was talking to my neighbor about you. And I was trying to explain to my neighbor.
Who this was that I buy this food from. That's so good. And then they're trying to explain to me who they buy the food from. And then eventually they realize that they're both talking about the same person, but they're both trying to tell each other to buy food from their Farber. And then they find out that their farmer is the same person.
That's happened multiple times, just the season, where you get people excited about the food and then they're going off and telling other people on like a weekly basis about how good it is, bringing friends with them to meet the farmer and to meet with his great food comes from.
And it's part of that wouldn't even be possible without the newsletter had. I kept going with it, cause I didn't want to keep going with it. I just forced myself to. And now it's I see a dip. if I forget to put out a newsletter, I'll still get some of my regulars, just email anyway, with what they want. But I lose a lot of preorders and I lose total sales throughout the day by not putting that newsletter out because it gets people excited.
Diego: [00:48:16] It�s something that's pretty easy to do. It just takes a little bit of time. And you're seeing the benefit of that. In thinking about everything that you're doing, it sounds like it's all working well and it's working well within your lifestyle.
And I want to circle back to one thing that you said earlier, and one thing you said earlier was heartbeat. If you could give up construction chin and be on the farm full time, you would, that means you can't. How do you. From a life perspective and just a mental perspective, reconcile that and just be okay with that.
the farming can't be a full time thing. So I have to do construction. A lot of people that stresses people out, people get depressed when they can't do those types of things, they'll say, I just want to follow my dream. How do you make that all work mentally?
Travis Schulert: [00:49:09] Good question. First off, if you're somebody who has gone through life only following dreams and not thinking, but like maybe you have to do something that doesn't necessarily fall under the category of your dream today. It's just to me, that's just like a hippy dippy mentality. and I grew up, I hung out with the hippies that was like my crowd for about five years later coming out of teenage hood and into adulthood.
and yeah, all of those people talk just like that, where it's all about your dream and your passions about following your dream and doing, doing what you love and. Unfortunately for most people, unless you got a lot of hard work, but you figured out how to make doing what you love, pays the amount of money you needed to pay, but by doing what you love, you're going to be miserable because you will not be making ends, meet, always be struggling.
And I would like to say that you just, everybody pretty much has to accept that. It's gotta have to do things you don't like in life. first off, you're going to have to work, like a lot of people, I really liked the boondocking lifestyle, there's this nomadic lifestyle, but even then, you still have to suck it up at work.
You just have to work less because you consume grass. but either way you still gotta make money you're actually going to, or else, you go, you walk fine line of nomad boondock. Sure. And then you're just straight up homeless. Yeah. So like a Boondocker to know that I is just somebody who's embraced homelessness and is happy doing it because they've worked hard enough in the places they've needed to gain enough resources, to be happy where they're at.
somebody who hasn't done that is just called a homeless person, I just, when it comes to the construction, I've grown up in it. It's my father's company. And he's through times of my life where I wasn't a good employee, he remained a good boss. So at this point I need to pay that back.
So the way I see it is. I got a few more years of doing this before. I could even think about moving on my own and doing something, doing the farm full time or starting my own, drywall company, that sort of thing. Like I can't, I'm just going to focus on, I'm putting my time in with him for now.
because he puts so much time into me early on and trained me and taught me a lot of what I know. And even though I wasn't doing enough, A value to work, to pay him back that's okay. the relationship now is ongoing to make sure I put that time in down and pay it forward. but it's all mindset, like I, I mean I have bad weeks and bad days and no everything in life is not hunted Dory. Most times it is because I've worked hard to make it that way, but ultimately, everybody's different. If you're not happy working and you're not happy, doing anything, then farming's probably not going to be any difference because it's a lot of work. and. I don't know. I just, I wish it was easier for more people to be happy doing what they're doing in life.
And I think part of the problem with that, and that's a whole nother subject, but part of the problem with that is our lifestyle and how we grow up here in America, that people are spoiled, and I think a lot of the, a lot of the people out there frustrated with the way of the world and frustrated with their life.
want to point their finger at how terrible everything is for them without realizing you're living, even if you don't like it, if you have a refrigerator and a roof over your head, you could be the poor person on the block. But if you've got a roof over your head and a refrigerator to keep your food warm and maybe a furnace or a, in our case, a wood stove, it's heat the house warm in the winter.
You're already doing better than like 96 to 98% of the rest of the world. so I live every day thinking that I'm blessed and that I'm just lucky. I was born in the country. I was born in, and I'm lucky I was born to a father who taught me how to work, And I'm lucky I was born somebody who strives to gain more information and learn more and suck more marrow out of life, and I see people sitting around gnawing on bones, just gnawing on dry rot bones and I have the same food, but like I'm breaking those bones open and sucking that sweet marrow out of the inside and I'm happy for doing it, and I just see a ton of people around me that don't have the motivation to get started in something.
And I can't kick them in the bud. Any more than I already have, and they might have to learn one day that they could have been happy all along. Had they just changed their mindset, Maybe it's not farming. Maybe it's not this job or that job, maybe it's you. And if you changed who you are inside and what you, what it takes for you to be happy, then you're going to be a better person and a happier person for it. And touching more people in life along the way by living like that.
Diego: [00:54:21] I think that's a kick in the butt right there for people that want to crack some marrow bones and follow everything that you're doing at Schuler's farm. Where's the best place to go to follow you?
Travis Schulert: [00:54:32] You can find me on Facebook. Travis Schulert, S C H U L E R T. Permadynamics.org. both of those places, a great place to start. Come follow me on Facebook. Don't hesitate. And the have a friend I've lots of people already that added me because they heard the episode that we did before they saw me on YouTube and they had some questions. I just had somebody recently asked.
Do you think, I heard you, I saw your episode with Diego. can I do it? Here's my parameters. Do you think I can do it? And, I don't know if you can do it's up to you, whether you do it or not. But I can tell you right now that I am more uneducated, formally than most anybody you know.
I have less of a high school education than anybody I know. And I'm happier, more successful, better off in life than most of the people I know. And that doesn't just have to do with income. It has to do with my happiness level and my outlook on the world around me. so I don't know if you can do it, but if I could do it.
Then I really don't see why any, there's a lot of people out there with a lot better excuses for not doing this. Then a lot of the people listening to this, right now. What's your physical ailment that's kept you from doing it because I have several physical ailments and I've managed to make it happen. I just wish more people would give work a shot, because you're not going to make it through life, touching butterflies and posting on Facebook, that's not gonna cut it.
Diego: [00:56:12] Yeah. You've come a long way. Just going back through some of the stuff we've talked about over the years on the podcast on YouTube, it's starting out in a bad situation and a trailer you decided one day to change.
And I think you referenced the Salatin quote that. When you're not moving, it's very hard to get started, but once you get started, it's equally hard to stop and you decided one day I'm going to start. And then ever since then, the momentum has been going on and you've been rolling along. And I think that's an encouraging message because you made it happen in a situation that on paper would say, there's nothing here. He can't do this.
Travis Schulert: [00:56:57] I was the statistical dropout loser. Like if you would, if you could have gone back and asked teachers in 10th grade, which was the last grade I completed, if you were to go ask people, my teachers, then you know what, what one student is least likely to succeed. They�d probably pick me.
And part of the reason there was because I refuse to learn what they were telling me I had to learn. And while we had textbooks open to page 35, I was on page 500 reading about the thing that actually interested me because by learning what I want to learn, I retain that information, and it took getting out of school and then turning around and going, you know what?
I'm going to buy that book. I'm getting your GED. I'm going to study that book because I want to be smart. I don't want to be stupid. I want to have good handwriting and I want to be intelligent. I want to be able to be taken seriously. And it's only in the last year that I've even started admitting that I didn't even graduate high school because up until then. I've been embarrassed by it. But now like looking back on the last 10 years, I'm thinking, everybody that I grew up with a vast majority of the people I grew up with are not happy. They're in debt up to their eyeballs and they did everything they were supposed to have done, and I did everything you're told you're not supposed to do, and I'm happy and successful.
And, a role model for a lot of people trying to leave that rat race and that lifestyle and I feel like me dropping out of high school was actually a good thing that got me started on this journey sooner and got me making some life lessons sooner and gaining experience yet on the end.
But if I could go back and do it again, I'd go back and at least finish high school, that was not the smartest thing in the world. If I wasn't an entrepreneur, then that would come into play. If all of a sudden I had to go get a job somewhere, which technically could still happen in my life.
I'm going to have a hard time getting that job. that's definitely something to consider, and the only reason it worked out, the way it did for me is because I have the entrepreneurial mindset, and have that push and that drive to work hard towards what I want, and you can't teach that in school, that's not something you get from school.
Diego: [00:59:24] I�m glad you shared that. I'm glad you said that because I think your story of your farm, which is going to profit plus $20,000 in 2018 is equally as inspiring as a farm, like Neversink which might do three 50 grows or Curtis, which does over a hundred grows when he was in his prime or some of the stuff that JM is doing and other farms.
I hope people listen to this and they are inspired by the work. And they also realize that farming in a business plays a piece in your life. And it's up to you to figure out how big or small. That piece is and how it fits into your life, because it's not just all about the numbers. It's about finding a fit that's right for you.
And I think you and your wife Miranda have found a fit and it comes across in your enthusiasm and your passion. I hear it. I saw it there and I really want to thank you for going out there and sharing. A success story that on the surface might not appear to be as much of a success as if people listen to you and really understand, think about what you're doing.
So I applaud you for it.
Travis Schulert: [01:00:37] Thanks, Diego. And I wouldn't be able to get a voice out there as easily as I have wasn't for you doing all of your hard work and doing all the great things you've done with it. And, Yeah. On paper, if you just looked at the numbers, you probably wouldn't think we were very happy or successful evil.
But come spend a day with us and we'll show you otherwise, it's really not that difficult to be happy in life. You just have to change your expectations.
Diego: [01:01:04] That's it. Thanks again, Travis. I'll link to ways people can connect with you. Our past episodes, the YouTube videos in the notes for this one.
Good luck. Enjoy the rest of the summer up there in Michigan.
You have it, Travis Schulert of Schulert farm up in Michigan. If you want to learn more about Travis and follow everything that he's doing, be sure to check them out at the links listed below in the show notes for this episode. I really want to thank Travis for coming on today and sharing his story. I really love what Travis is doing.
Diego: [01:01:41] I love his approach to farming and to life. I don't think enough people think about that. As I said in the beginning, think about your life and how business and life come together. Does it feel like your farm based business in your life are coexisting, peacefully, harmoniously? Are they a yin to the yang or is there some roughness between the two?
Does the farm business take over life or are you spending too much time in life and not enough time on the farm business? There's no one universal right answer, but there is a right answer for each of us spend some time this week. And as we get into the winter and reflect on your life and how everything is balancing out, is it working?
Does it feel good? Are you stressing? Are you burning out? Are your relationships being stressed by running this business? Don't kill your relationships for your business. Don't end up divorced. Because you put too much time into your business, don't forget the people in your life. And don't forget the rest of life while I really believe everybody should go out there and crush it and work hard and go full on beast mode.
I think that's all within context. I think you work hard for the time that you dedicate to work. Assuming you dedicate only a portion of your time to work. Think about that. Thanks for listening to this one until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work.
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